First Nations leaders call on the Government of New Brunswick to improve mental health and suicide prevention services for youth in their communities.
In its report, No Child Left Behind, the First Nations Advisory Council issued 13 calls to action that it believes will help reduce the high rate of suicide in First Nations communities.
The report was presented to St. Mary’s First Nation on Tuesday morning, and several Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaw chiefs and leaders were in attendance.
“In our communities, youth and children are our most valuable assets,” said Chief Ross Perley of the Tobique First Nation. “And that’s why the importance of the mental well-being of young people in Indigenous communities is a priority for us leaders. “
Perley said that at age 39, he lost seven friends to suicide.
“They lost their strength, they lost their minds to addictions and there were no resources to help them when they needed it most. And that’s why that’s so important.”
The suicide rate among Aboriginal people is three times the national average. And for young Indigenous men aged 15 to 24, it’s five times higher than for non-Indigenous ones, said Roxanne Sappier.
Sappier has been co-chair of the First Nations Advisory Council and the director of health for the Tobique First Nation for 20 years.
She said she was hopeful when the report was delivered.
“I am really happy to hear that the Child and Youth Advocate is supporting our calls to action and the work that we have been doing. And I hope the government will also listen and try to do good on these calls for action. action and work with us. ”
No provincial government representative was present on Tuesday.
“It’s a little disheartening to know that they are not physically here and because I would like to see them, I guess, demonstrate that they are very committed to this work,” Sappier said. “So it’s a little disheartening. But I feel and I know some of my colleagues that I work with and I know they are also very engaged.”
At the head of the calls to action are three recommendations related to the recognition of Indigenous language and culture, which Sappier and others say are directly linked to the generational trauma faced by members of First Nations communities. Nations.
“If you know your language and know your teachings from the country you’re from and have built up that spiritual strength within you, that’s resilience,” Sappier said. “It’s your protective factor that gives you that feeling, you know, of hope and meaning, of belonging and of purpose in life.”
But without that, Sappier said the vulnerability sets in.
“You get the opposite effect. You don’t have as much meaning, purpose, hope and belonging.”
The first call to action is to have the Mi’kmaw, Peskotomuhkati and Wolatoqey languages officially recognized by provincial legislation.
Other calls to action include Indigenous communities and the Province of New Brunswick and other organizations working together to “bring about changes in health care structures and processes, such as the design of health care. service delivery, policies… with the long term goal of cultural safety and improved mental health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
The Council also wants greater transparency on how funding from the federal health transfer in New Brunswick is spent on Aboriginal mental health services. Right now, Sappier says they have no idea how much is being spent on Indigenous services.
“We have made a request for a report on this and are still awaiting this.”
The report also calls for several changes to the education system to not only measure academic success, but to include the cultural practices of Indigenous peoples.
Deputy Child and Youth Advocate Christian Whalen said now is the time for the government to respond to those calls.
“This is not a report that we intend to leave on a shelf,” he said. “We will review this report at regular intervals with the government and also monitor the implementation of the calls to action and our recommendations.”
The First Nations Advisory Council was established by the Child and Youth Advocate to provide advice and feedback for the Provincial Review of Youth Suicide and Mental Health Services, following the death of Lexi Daken, 16, who committed suicide after being unable to access mental health services in Fredericton.
The council is made up of Elders, First Nations youth, health professionals and service providers.
The report was commissioned in March and the first meeting was held in April.
“Since then we have lost a number of young people, I think about six in our communities,” Sappier said.
“Our health systems and supports need to improve so that no family suffers this kind of loss and, of course, no child is left behind.”